Newswise — Rajiv Rimal, PhD, MA, a leading expert on health behavior change and on social norms, has been named chair of the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Rimal will assume his new role at the Bloomberg School on August 1.

Rimal's research focuses on the use of social and behavioral theory for disease prevention and harm reduction. Since 2013, Rimal has served as a professor and chair of the Department of Prevention and Community Health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. Previously, he was a faculty member in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society from its inception in 2005 until 2013. Prior to joining the Bloomberg School faculty, Rimal was an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We are thrilled to welcome Rajiv back to the Bloomberg School to continue his important work and to lead us in this vital area of public health,” says Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75, dean of the Bloomberg School. “Understanding social norms and how they influence choices that affect health outcomes is critical. Our students, faculty and the public health field at large will benefit from Rajiv’s expertise and leadership.” At the Bloomberg School, Rimal will lead the Department’s faculty and educational programs and broaden its vision for public health impact. The Department’s master’s and doctoral programs offer a wide spectrum of study emphasizing social factors in health, behavioral interventions, health education and communication, and genetic counseling. The Department is home to multiple centers, including the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, the Institute for Global Tobacco Control and the Center for Communication Programs, among others.

Rimal has more than 25 years of experience in the conceptualization, implementation and evaluation of health promotion interventions throughout the world. He is the author of the Theory of Normative Social Behavior, which has informed his work to reduce violence against women in public transportation systems in Mexico, improve driver safety among adolescents in Serbia, reduce anemia among women in India and study alcohol consumption among college students in the United States. This theory is also being used in numerous interventions to bring about social change. Rimal received a PhD in communication from Stanford University in 1995 and a Master of Arts in journalism and mass communication at Southern Illinois University in 1991.

“The time is ripe for thinking about health as not an absence of disease, but as a basic human right that emphasizes wellness and prevention of diseases. Social and behavior change is central in that effort, requiring the input from all sectors in society, and I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Department and across the School,” says Rimal.

Rimal’s current research includes a project in India, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that uses a social norms-based approach to design, implement and evaluate an intervention to reduce anemia among women of reproductive age. He is also leading studies that aim to understand how people with different political orientations process information about climate change and how mass media and social media can influence people’s attitudes and behaviors related to climate change.

Rimal has served as chair of the Health Communication divisions of both the International Communication Association and the National Communication Association. He was a recipient of the American Public Health Association’s Everett M. Rogers Award for Public Health Education and Health Promotion.

Rimal will succeed Margaret Ensminger, PhD, who became the Department’s interim chair after chair David R. Holtgrave, PhD, stepped down to become dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York at Albany. Holtgrave served as chair from the Department’s founding in August 2005 through February 2018.

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